Uploaded to Aural Innovations: November 2003
Man In Space - "For Medicinal Use Only"
The debut from Belgian space project Man In Space - How To Potty Train A Supernova - was one of the highlight releases of 2001, being a kick ass heavy space rock album that incorporated powerful elements of progressive rock, resulting in a mind-numbing blend of Hawkwind, King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator and more. And while project leader Jan Geerts continues in this style on For Medicinal Use Only, it's clear that he has bumped the energy level several additional notches. Not only does the new album rock harder, but Man In Space is more of a "band", than just Geerts handling most of the instrumentation himself. In addition to Geerts on guitar, synth and vocals is Dave Baeten on bass and Christoph Bosmans on drums.
"Psych'D'Hell'ic" opens the album with a slow, pounding, spacey buildup that you know is going to burst at any moment. And boy does it ever! At about the 2 minute mark Geerts and company blast off into metallic space rock heaven, with bashing guitar and a blazing rhythm section, interspersed with the prog rock and alien influenced transitional bits that makes Man In Space so excitingly brain twisting. "Man In Space" is a head banging Hawk styled space rocker that's brimming with energy and a tripped out rockin punk attitude. "Dance Of The 3-Legged Snake" begins with Middle Eastern stylings that lead a thudding intro section. But after about 4 minutes it goes totally space punk... but only for a few moments, until settling back into its snake charming groove... and then back to the space punk!! Quite a dizzying track. If I was at all disappointed that the punk sections were too brief on this song, I was more than compensated on "Bombdreaming", a blistering punker that dredges up images of safety pinned mohawk haired radicals partying on the UFO hovering overhead. And "Borg" is THEE devastating molten space metal crusher of the set. Yeah, it has dreamy bits and proggy transitions. But the overwhelming bulk of the song is pure sonic power.
Off in somewhat different territory are tracks like the aptly titled "Robot Rock", which is similar to "Die Zeitmachine", from the first album, with its off-kilter, semi-dancey, Gary Numan styled electro vibe. "Where Is Bussard When You Need Him?" is even more overtly dancey, but with a far heavier rock element. "Le Peuple Du Soleil" is similar, but is the laid back dreamy song of the set. And "Vortex Valentino" and "Disobeying The Galaxy" both include a combination of electro and prog styles along with the trademark Man In Space heavy space rock.
In short, For Medicinal Use Only will be an easy entry on my best of 2003 list. Having now released two stunning space rock albums I decided it was time to find out more about Man In Space. The following interview was conducted with Jan Geerts via cyberspace.
AI: To what extent was How To Potty Train A Supernova a solo effort? My understanding is that it was mostly you on all instruments and vocals with Christoph and Dave on some of the drums and bass.
Jan Geerts (JG): The band, which exists since '98, was on a rest due to my health problem at the time. In '99 I had an accident which lead to serious damage to my left wrist, preventing me from playing the guitar for almost six months. Which literally drove me mad. 'Tricorder' was the first rehearsal after months of rehabilitation, rehabilitation consisting of practicing King Crimson pieces for hours a day, which helped. Although I couldn't reach the low E and A strings, and missed a couple of notes here and there, the interplay and development of the piece was so good that I kept it. It was one of those rare occasions when a successful improv actually got recorded, decently recorded even. One needs to treasure those things.
On New Years eve 2000, I broke my ankle while partying, but only discovered it was broken by noon of Januari 1. Needless to say that by then, it was seriously damaged. This meant a year of immobility, of which the first 5 months nearly completely. It was in the latter half of that year that I started to work on finally recording some of my many songs properly. I could do that on my own, working with a band was too strenuous for me at the time. I put some of those songs on the net, but got quite some requests for a cd, so I started to work on that. I wrote mostly new songs for that one, dug up a couple of old ones, and 'Tricorder'. I asked Stof to play on two tracks, because I wasn't satisfied with my static keyboard played drums on those ('Zeitmachine' and 'Thanosphere'). We started to rehearse again around spring 2001.
AI: Were you initially recording on your own because of difficulty in finding like-minded musicians? Had you played in bands before Man In Space?
JG: That was so in '90, when I had left Patriarch, a prog metal band I was in then. There wasn't this 60's/70's revival yet, and I started to work with synths and sequencers out of necessity as well as out of interest. I was mainly doing pretty complex psychedelic stuff then, and wasn't really searching for a band. I had turned some friends of mine on to Hawkwind and Pink Floyd though, and they asked me to form a band with them to play that and original music like it. Hawkwind and Floyd is pretty easy music to play anyway. This was the start of The Far Out Band (TFOB), a real neo hippie, tribal kinda thing. We played lots and lots of Hawkwind covers, a couple of Pink Floyd, 'Master Builder' by Gong, and I'm forgetting some, but we also played my songs. Our gigs were long stoner parties really, with sometimes up to two hours of originals and another hour of Hawkwind. Very fun days, but I really don't remember much of 'em ;-) Dave, our current bass player, joined around '94. No decent recordings of that band have been made. As the years went by, I started to bring more complex stuff into the band, but that didn't work very well. Finally, I got so frustrated about one member particularly, that I burst, and the band with me.
AI: I dig the Hammill vocals on "Liaisons Extraterrestres" and especially the very VDGG styled "Lucifer's Night On The Town" on the first album. Were those your vocals?
JG: Yes, those are my vocals. But heavily eq'd and with plenty of reverb and delay. During the 90's, Hammill was my GOD, (ah that's right, we also played 'Killer' with TFOB), and I really enjoy playing his songs myself, and I can really let everything out when singing his stuff. So no wonder, that crept into some of my own pieces. Funny thing about 'Lucifer': haven't you noticed those aren't words really? The vocals were a first take, before I had lyrics, but I did know the melody and feel I wanted, and as always, I 'sing' it in then to recall and refine it later. Only with this one, I felt the original take was the most powerful, despite of all the...mmmm neologisms in it :D
As much a fan of Hammill and VDGG I am, during those bad times I mentioned earlier, I had experienced a total Hammill burn out, because I couldn't take the emotional heavyness of the music at the time, suffering from depression. This also lead to a very different approach to my music: before it couldn't be dark enough, and lyrically always about the bad things I saw. I then discovered I had a lot more satisfaction from singing silly lyrics, like most of Potty ('Thanosphere' was from before that). It was also then that I quit smoking, resulting in a taste for the concise again instead of stoney jamming. These two things are the main differences between my MIS songs and the TFOB ones ('Bright Purple Spacecraft' is an edited version of a TFOB song, 'Liberator' and 'Borg' have also been performed by TFOB, but aren't the most representative for that band).
AI: One of the things that makes your music so killer is the combination of heavy space rock and prog rock. A really great mixture of your stated loves like Hawkwind, King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator. But there are other styles apparent as well. Did you intentionally synthesize all these influences or was it all just a natural result of your varied interests?
JG: The latter. I listen to lots of different styles, and don't prefer one to the other really. I do listen mostly to the mentioned prog rock groups, but I also listen to techno, trance, jazz, fusion, soul, pop, disco, you name it. I do seem to have a preference for all things spacy in any genre. In the first place, I make music for my own enjoyment. It sometimes comes of being inspired by going to concerts (for instance, I wrote 'Timekeeper' and 'Thanosphere' within a week after seeing Bedouin), and very often it goes like this: I hear a lot of things that have potential to my ears, but don't really captivate me. So, I do things then like I like 'em. And sometimes a piece comes from out of nowhere.
AI: The new album is more of a band effort. Was the decision to form a band mostly to be able to perform live? Has Man In Space performed many live shows?
JG: For Medicinal Use Only (FMUO) could have been released a year earlier, and it would have been a Potty II. But I ditched 75% of the material because it wasn't what I wanted to hear then anymore. I was starting to listen to heavier music again, and I wrote a couple of songs really with the trio in mind. Most songs on Potty are very densly layered, in terms of arrangement and certainly sonically, and I really went for something that was really live based. We haven't played live much yet, though. Most clubs who ask for bands of any genre to send in a demo are flabbergasted by what we throw at them.
'MIS', 'Psyche'd'HELL'ic' were real 'band' songs, although still completely written by me. 'Borg' and 'Bombdreaming' are songs we had been playing for years, because they worked really well for this band, but the rest of FMUO were new compositions, where I played everything again, but Stof plays drums on all of them. He brings in rhythms I would never think of, but I did still play bass on most tunes, except 'MIS', 'Bombdreaming' and the last piece of 'Snake'. During the recording of FMUO, which took much longer than expected, rehearsal were again on hold. We started again when the cd was ready.
AI: I think you guys do a good improv job on "You Broke My Heart, So I Smashed Your Tricorder". Do you do any improv during your live shows?
JG: We haven't improvised much lately, mainly because we're working hard at getting the songs right. I also have another band in which I can really do my thing with improvisation: it's much more jazz orientated. I don't really feel the need to improv with MIS, atthough I know Dave and Stof do. Maybe we will get back to that, but with the new members, it might not. We'll see.
AI: You are still credited with writing the music and lyrics on the new album. Is it safe to say that despite the formation of a band that Man In Space is still the vision of Jan Geerts?
JG: It is, has always been. Same with TFOB. Things might change, because our new guitarist has a very different approach and writes songs too. More punky, stoner kind of things, but I like it. I'm going to have a lot of fun just adding the fx and psychedelics to that. And the rest of the band won't mind some simpler songs, I'm sure.
AI: The new album is just as spaced as the first one, and the prog rock influences are still much in evidence, but it's also heavy in spots to the point of being metallic and even punky. But you've also got the robotic dancey electro tunes like "Robot Rock", similar to "Die Zeitmachine" on the first CD.
JG: I'm mostly listening to metal and techno lately, so... I still like my fave metal records from the 80's, but don't really find any new metal that really pleases me. So, I'm going to hafta do it myself again ;-) I also want to incorporate techno and trance elements into that, but again, differently from let's say NIN or the likes. I really like Rob Zombie and some things by Rammstein. For the moment, ideally, the music I'm looking for is a mix of Voivod, Fates Warning and Kraftwerk. Still with those classic cheesy sci fi sounds I so love, and often silly space stories.
AI: Your web site mentions working in guitarist Rony Van den Block for an upcoming live performance. Are you bringing in a second guitar because it's needed to reproduce the songs from the albums or is this to "expand" the Man In Space sound?
JG: Both. It is impossible to bring that wall of sound with the trio, despite the use of midi guitar. And we're not keen on working with sequences, despite the fact that we play compositions. Sequencing means a loss of flexibility. As mentioned before, Rony has a very different take on things. His background is punk and glamrock. We've rehearsed a couple of times, and he already brings a great deal of rawness to the existing pieces. I'm really looking forward to creating songs with him.
AI: Your web site also notes that the new music is getting "heavier and heavier". Can you share some idea of what we fans are in for with new Man In Space music?
JG: Well, I've been making space rock, but it's increasingly becoming Sci fi Metal, think Voivod with lots of synths, or the new King Crimson but far less complex. That's my side, let's see what Rony brings. And you never know what Dave or Stof may come up with.
AI: Can I assume from your music and lyrics that you are an avid science fiction reader and film watcher? If so, who/what are some of your favorite authors and films?
JG: Not so hot on the film side. 2001 is great, but most sci fi, or what's been called such, is really cheesy. Often fun if it's really done to be camp, but often just stupid. I'm a hard SF kinda guy, the science part is very important to me. My fave authors come from a background of military aviation, or are professors in math or biology. They create a consistent new universe, based on their experience and cultivated by their idea's and fantasy. So, it's the classics like Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Niven, and newer ones like Baxter, Stephenson... Very often riffs and pieces I come up with come together by stories from these people and others. Lately, I've been reading a lot of horror though. Especially about vampires. So expect some songs about vampires too in the future. Another Voivod reference: space vampires, the ultimate! Man In Space also reflects the NASA program, as well as the classic authors, and stands for the belief in the creative capacities of men, optimism, and getting off your ass to do something positive. I really think that more efforts should be made to explore our system to start with. It's time to try to put some ideas of our writers to reality. Most of Verne's contemporaries thought what he described was impossible.
AI: If you had $20 million would you give it to the Russians to hitch a ride into space?
JG: No, I haven't got the constitution for it. Too bad.
AI: Any news or future projects you care to share?
JG: We'll be playing live December 13, and not only Rony has joined, but also Danny Heylen, who sang on FMUO on a couple of songs, and also Leentje, who will dance and sing. I really feel good about this extended line up, and am curious where it will take us myself.